Dogs are making headlines lately for being smart – but we all knew that already, didn’t we?
It can be amusing and validating for a dog parent and dog lover to watch the headlines go by: Dogs Are People, Too, Study Proves Your Dog Actually Does Understand You, and think: “Well, yeah!”
Here are 5 scientific studies done in recent years that are proving what many of us dog lovers have known all along: that these creatures are thoughtful, emotional, and just plain wonderful.
Dogs can differentiate human voices, and sense emotions from voices.
Researchers at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, led by neuroscientist Attila Andics, have discovered that dogs have a “voice area” in their brains, just as people do. It was previously thought only primates had this knack.
Like we can tell when an old friend calls because we know their voice, dogs can differentiate between you calling their name and a stranger doing so.
What’s more, Andics’ research shows that dogs can perceive emotions in human speech. “Happy sounds, such as an infant’s giggle, made the primary auditory cortex of both species light up more than did unhappy sounds, such as a man’s harsh cough,” reports Science.
Dogs can experience emotions at least as deeply as a human child.
MRIs of the canine brain have indicated that dogs can experience positive emotions and have a sentience level similar to that of a human child.
Gregory Berns and his team of researchers at Emory University scanned dogs’ caudate nucleus, an area of the brain where dopamine receptors in humans consistently activate to things like foods we like, music we like, and even our perceptions of beauty.
Dogs in the study responded positively to hand signals indicating food, the smells of familiar humans, and even the sight of an owner who had been out of the dog’s range of vision.
Proof that our dogs love us? Well, Berns says the scientific verdict on that is still out.
Dogs can associate our emotions with what we’re looking at.
“In human infants the ability to recognize emotions and to understand that they may be associated with a particular object has been verified in toddlers aged 14 to 18 months,” says Stanley Coren, Ph.D., writing on Psychology Today. It seems our dogs are right there, too.
He details a study done at the University of Milan, in which dog owners either examined a box with interest or jumped back from it, apparently afraid. Then their dogs were allowed to approach the box, and most dogs were interested in approaching a box their owner had seemed to like.
So if your dog won’t try out that new toy, try playing with it yourself for a while, exclaiming your interest.
Dogs can do basic math.
Presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, one study found that dogs can understand up to 250 words and gestures, can count up to five, and can even perform simple math.
In the research tests, dogs were told to fetch specific items, and were able to tell when two treats should be somewhere, but one had been secretly removed or added. Maybe your own dog is already a pro at this trick – I know mine can tell when two treats were promise but only one shows up!
Dogs learn by following other dogs’ examples.
Good role models are important for everyone, dogs included! Psychology Today reported that since dogs have an “inborn inclination […] to want to be with other dogs, to follow their lead, and do the same thing,” they are likely to learn good behaviors – or bad! – from other dogs in the house.
So bringing home a puppy when you already have another dog is likely easier training-wise than bringing a puppy into a home without any adult dogs.